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Advanced Science Writing

Complete Syllabus

If you are ready to move beyond character, scene, and setting in your science writing, this is the class for you. Whether you write about environmental issues, health and medical topics, tech, or other science-related topics, this workshop will help you take your work to the next level. We will take a deep dive into the structure and narrative arcs of excellent science essays and address ethics, revision, and marketing your work in this class intended for students with experience writing short or long-form narrative nonfiction.

How it works:

Each week provides:

  • written lectures and a selection of readings
  • discussions of assigned readings and other general writing topics with peers and the instructor

Some weeks also include:

  • writing exercises and prompts
  • opportunities to submit a full-length essay for instructor and/or peer review (up to 3,500 words and typically in weeks 3, 6, and 9)
  • optional video conferences that are open to all students in Week 2 (and which will be available afterwards as a recording for those who cannot participate)

Aside from the live conference, there is no need to be online at any particular time of day.
To create a better classroom experience for all, you are required to participate weekly in class discussions to receive instructor feedback on your work.

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Week 1: The long & short of science writing
Short news stories and blog posts for major journals are a great way to build your platform and demonstrate to future editors that you can engage readers. In week one we will practice the art of distillation and write a teaser piece for a full-length essay.

Week 2: Finding your beat
Writing about science invariably means searching for and talking to scientists. This week we will talk about the tools and craft of interviewing subjects and will look at different options for finding information about current or historic research.

Week 3: The longform essay
This week we dive into what makes full-length narrative and research driven essays about science sing. We will discuss the reach and impact of this kind of work, and the range of journals, websites, and publishers who are are interested in featuring it. You will share your working idea for input and encouragement, or brainstorm with peers on a new idea for the essay you will write over the rest of the workshop.

Week 4: Where to begin & when to end
In scientific research, the narrative “arc” can be obscured by inconclusive results, long-term studies, or uncontrollable variables. We will discuss how structural and organizing principles can turn a pile of research and interview notes into a satisfying and informative story. This week you will develop an outline for your longform essay and will have the chance to get instructor and peer feedback.

Week 5: Ethics, logistics, and reconstructions, oh my!
Often when writing about the research or discoveries of others, you will have to navigate between knowing and speculating about what happened. But when does reconstructing a scene become fictionalizing a scene? This week we will discuss ethical approaches to conjecture and how to keep work factual and engaging.

Week 6: Showing and telling science
How much quantum physics is too much for non-experts? How can you explain plate tectonics or trophic cascades so that readers are hooked on the science, rather than overwhelmed? This week’s readings will offer different models of exposition styles, and peer review will give you a chance to check in with readers.

Week 7: Organizing for action
The best science writing balances action and exposition artfully. We will work this week on techniques for organizing your writing so that action moves the story forward while backstory and explanation raise the stakes for readers. This week you will submit a draft of your essay of up to 4,000 words for instructor and peer feedback.

Week 8: Revision
Revision, both structural and at the sentence level, can turn a good piece of writing into a great one. This week you will learn several strategies for revision and practice them on writing submitted earlier in the workshop.

Week 9: Pitch it!
The next step is finding your readers. We will look at a variety of outlets–online and print–that publish science- and research-driven writing. We will talk about how to craft strong pitches and query letters and practice both.

Week 10: Working with editors and fact checkers
Once your essay is accepted for publication, the next step is often fact-checking and editor-requested revisions. For our final week of class, we will share experiences with pre-publication requests, talk through how to streamline the fact-checking process, and brainstorm ways to promote your work on social media once it is published.

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Questions? Check out our FAQ page or contact our Director of Education, Sharla Yates, at yates[at]creativenonfiction.org.